1969 White Paper

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The 1969 White Paper (officially entitled Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian policy) was a Canadian policy paper proposal made by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chrétien in 1969. This paper would abolish the Indian Act and dismantle the established legal relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the state of Canada in favour of equality. First Nations Peoples in Canada have never represented themselves within the Dominion of Canada. The federal government proposed that, by eliminating "Indian" as a distinct legal status, equality among all Canadians would result. [1]


By the 1920s, the socio-economic barriers built around Aboriginal peoples were so unjust that not even the federal government could argue for them. Aboriginal peoples were experiencing higher infant mortality rate and poverty than the rest of the Canadian population.[2] Meanwhile, the civil rights movement was occurring in the United States. This directed public attention to discrimination against minorities, including Aboriginal peoples.

In 1966, anthropologist Harry B. Hawthorn published a report, A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic , Political, Educational Needs and Policies. This report was the result of an investigation, commissioned by the federal government, to research the social conditions of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The conclusion of this report was that Aboriginal peoples were the most disadvantaged among the Canadian population.[3] Hawthorne claimed that the disadvantages came from failed government policies. He believed that the residential school system was a major contributor as it failed to prepare students for participation in the economy.[4] Hawthorne proposed that Aboriginal peoples be provided with the opportunities and resources for self-determination.

After the publication of A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada: Economic, Political, Educational Needs and Policies, the federal government began consulting Aboriginal communities across Canada in pursuit of an amendment to the Indian Act.[5] A nationwide meeting was held in Ottawa in May 1969. This meeting consisted of regional Aboriginal representatives expressing their concerns regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights, land title, self-determination, education and health care.[6] The white paper, proposing the abolition of Indian Affairs, was produced in June 1969.

The 1973 Calder case pushed along the abandonment of the white paper.

On February 23, 2014, the Liberal Party of Canada at its biennial convention renounced with regret the White Paper of 1969 as a step towards reconciliation with Canada and with the Liberal Party of Canada. Source: Resolution 21


If passed, the white paper would have worked to eliminate "Indian" status (the specific legal identity of an Aboriginal person in Canada) and dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs within five years. The Indian Act would be abolished, provide funding for economic development and appoint a commissioner who would investigate outstanding land claims as well as terminate treaties. Reserve land converted to private property to allow Aboriginal bands and band members to sell the property. Finally, the white paper would transfer the responsibility of "Indian" affairs to the province, gradually integrating them with the services provided to other Canadian citizens.


Aboriginal peoples were not convinced by this proposition. It overlooked many of the concerns raised during the consultation process such as the recognition of First Nations' special rights. The white paper proposed further suppression of these special rights. The request for Aboriginal representation in Canadian policy making was also ignored. For many Aboriginal peoples, the white paper represented another attempt to assimilate them into the majority. Instead of pursuing the promise the federal government made to amend the Indian Act, the proposal became complete abolition and a hand off of responsibilities to the province.

Harold Cardinal referred to the white paper as "a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation".[7] Cardinal headed the Indian Association of Alberta. The rejection of the white paper by the Indian Association of Alberta in 1970 provided a huge support for the opposition of its implication. They provided a document entitled Citizen Plus, which was later referred to as the Red Paper.

In November 1969, Rose Charlie of the Indian Homemakers' Assiciation, Philip Paul of the Southern Vancouver Island Tribal Federation, and Don Moses of the North American Indian Brotherhood invited bands residing in British Columbia to join them in Kamloops in order to build a response to the white paper. Representative from 140 bands were present. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) was formed during the Kamloops conference, the organization behind the "Brown Paper" of 1970.[8]

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